Grief · spiritual growth

Confessions of a Flawed Mommy

I have a confession to make: I was a flawed Mommy. There is probably a litany of stories to prove it, but I saw something online today, and it prompted the memory of two specific events that occurred during my flawed Mommy years. The incidents I am about to share took place over the course of two days in 1995:

  • On the night of January 30th, 1995 I put my 19-month-old daughter to bed without sheets or bumper pads in her crib.
  • On the morning of January 31st, 1995 I used a baby blanket to prop up a bottle for my 8-month-old son when he woke at 5:30AM.

There it is. Two shameful and embarrassing truths about the kind of Mommy I was twenty years ago.

It might seem odd to some that I remember these specific incidents, but because of the events that occurred through that night and into the morning, I have lived a long time knowing that following my instincts with these two shameful things placed me and my daughter in our destined places in the wee hours of the morning on January 31st.

Let’s back-up to earlier in the day on January 30th. It starts when I placed my daughter’s bunny rabbit bedding in the washing machine in the garage. After tossing her sheets and her bumper pads in the machine, I went about the business of being a Mommy to my 5-year-old daughter, my 4-year-old son, my toddler daughter, and my baby boy who was just 10 and a half months behind his sister in age. (Yes, you read that correctly.) I guess you could say my hands were full.


FullSizeRender(22)Back then, my husband and I spent a lot of time on the floor. Playing with Barbies and “toy guys”, wrestling and reading, helping someone put on their shoes, or changing a diaper. We lived in a modest three bedroom home, and each of the kids’ rooms held one bed and one crib. The boy’s room was a primary colored den of Legos and Hot Wheels, while the girl’s room was a pastel princess palace with patchwork quilts and bunny rabbits.

When evening came, we went through the bedtime rituals and everything was status quo, until I saw my daughter’s unmade crib. Remembering that her bedding was wet in the washing machine, but desperate for a few hours of grown up time with my husband, I placed a blanket on the mattress and put my toddler in her crib.

A few hours later my toddler daughter started to fuss. Now, there is nothing unusual about a fussy child at bedtime—but for this toddler—it was unheard of. The toddler was Molly, and she was born prematurely at 35 weeks with a brain malformation called Dandy Walker. What that means in simple terms is that the back section of her brain, the cerebellum, did not form. Where the cerebellum would have been there was extra cerebral spinal fluid.

Diagnosed in-utero, Molly was greeted by a family ready to love her, which was only about the easiest task any of us ever had to face. She was agreeable, charming, and stunningly beautiful. She would eat whatever she was offered, play easily with her siblings or alone, and she had a smile that would stop strangers. Despite the lack of a cerebellum, her gross and fine motor skills developed with only a slight delay.

Because Molly was born prematurely, she had a preference for sleeping; even as an infant she preferred sleeping to eating. It’s very common among premies. When I first brought her home from the hospital I would set an alarm and wake her for feedings to ensure that she was getting the necessary calories to thrive. As she grew stronger, her love of sleep never subsided. That’s what made her restless behavior unusual; my child who had always been a great sleeper was uncomfortable and shifting in her crib.

I remember the shame I felt about her shuffling around in a crib with no sheets and no bumper pads. I remember believing that the absence of those items made me slightly unfit as her Mommy. I remember being concerned that Molly’s fussing might wake her sister, who had to be well rested for Kindergarten the next morning; I remember judging myself for not having more money. I remember silently belittling myself and my husband for not making more money so that we could have a bigger home and babies and grade school children would not have to share rooms.

To this day, some twenty years later, I don’t know which feeling led me to go in and get her out of that crib and bring her into my bed. Was it shame or guilt?

When I went in to check on Molly, one of her arms had slid between the bars of the crib and her head was pressed against the hard rails. I pulled her up and out and brought her into bed with her Daddy and me. It was a long and restless night as Molly continued to fuss. I turned on the light, and when I looked in her eyes, I knew something was off. I told my husband we needed to take her to the doctor in the morning. The decision to wait until morning would haunt me for years. Even as I type this I wonder how many people are whispering, “Why didn’t you go right then? Why did you wait?”

At 5:30AM, Molly’s little brother woke in his crib. When I heard him, I turned my head toward my husband’s side of the bed to wake him. I planned on asking him to make a bottle for our 8-month-old son, but my husband was gone. He had moved out to the couch to give us some room. I carried Molly out to where my husband lay sleeping and woke him enough to hand her over, and then I went into the kitchen and made a bottle for my baby son. I took the bottle into the primary colored room and, without hesitation, I used one of his blankets to prop his bottle. I watched as his chubby little hands settled around it and held it in place.

Yes, I was tired. No, it wasn’t the first time. But it is the time I remember, because it is the time that I not only wanted to get back into bed, but I wanted to get my daughter back into my arms.

And again, twenty years beyond that morning, I don’t know completely why I chose to prop my baby boy’s bottle. Was it exhaustion or fear? Or was it the Spirit of God, alive in me and prompting me to pull Molly closer to my heart in her final hours?

All I know for certain is that because of the choices made by this flawed Mommy, the morning that my daughter died, she was lying in my arms. At around 6:30 AM, Molly’s labored breathing ceased. No longer fighting for sleep, she was eased her into her next life. My little girl went directly from the arms of her Mommy to the arms of her Savior.

Should I have taken her to the hospital in the middle of the night? It was a haunting thought. Months later that question led me back to the hospital where Molly had been taken by ambulance and pronounced dead. I met with the nurse who had been working the morning Molly had died, and she walked me through what would have happened had we come to the hospital during the night. The nurse told me that arriving earlier wouldn’t have stopped what was already happening. The weight of a cerebral fluid cyst had settled on Molly’s brain stem, if she had been brought to the hospital in the night, Molly would have been placed on life support. By the time they would have diagnosed what was happening, it would have been too late. My husband and I would have had to decide whether or not we should keep her on life support.

Molly was leaving on the morning of January 31st whether she was lying in a hospital bed, in her crib surrounded by the coziest bunny bedding on earth, or nestled securely on her Mommy’s chest. I am thankful that due to my “failures” as a parent, it was the latter.

This morning my friend, who is a Mommy to three littles, shared this post on Facebook:

It takes guts and confidence to stare the possibility of people looking down on you in the face and do what’s best for your family sometimes. Especially in the mommy world! Today I was reminded that the most important thing my kids need is simply ME. Everything else is secondary. I am their first impression of how God loves them and if I am distracted by the long list of people’s opinions on what is best for my children then I’m stressed. When I am stressed, I am less available to my kids. -Candice Hernandez

Amid the comments of encouragement to my friend, I read about the movement, End Mommy Wars, started by Similac.

  • Think before you speak. Better yet, say nothing.
  • Check your eye roll. And the raised eyebrow.
  • Respect the mom. Even if you’re a different kind of mom.


I desire this for all the Mommies. Even though I am no longer a Mommy, my daughter is raising my granddaughter, and I know that she has days where she feels like a flawed Mommy. But I know some things that she may not have learned yet. I know that most Mommies are too hard on themselves, and I’ve lived long enough to see “bad” choices turned into something beautiful. What feels like a failure may be a gift, and sometimes the greatest blessing comes to us because of a load of wet bedding in the washer.

I believe that we are all called to love one another, but eye rolling and raised eyebrows are the opposite of love. My daughter means more to me than life itself, so the idea of ending Mommy-bullying is dearer to me than ever.


Grief · spiritual growth

Give Me the Strange Life: Johnny’s Legacy

dianette and johnnyOn the first day of October the world lost some of its beauty when 23-year-old Johnny Strange died in a wingsuit accident. The young man had been climbing and jumping his entire life. He holds the world record as the youngest person to have ever climbed all Seven of the World’s Summits. I never met Johnny Strange and were it not for Johnny’s Mother and our Facebook connection, I might not have known about his adventures. Johnny’s Mother, Dianette Wells is an old friend from High School, and we (like millions of other adults) have reconnected over the years through social media.

Dianette was a year behind me in High School, but miles ahead of me in enthusiasm, belief and confidence. She was a bundle of perkiness in a cheer-leading uniform, with radiant skin and a fire beneath her intelligent eyes. Being a year ahead of Dianette gave me some sway at the time, and she allowed me that leverage of faux maturity despite my utter failures.

Once we reconnected via Facebook I wasn’t surprised to see that Dianette had only improved over time, her confidence spilling into everything she touched.  She’s an activist in her community, fighting for the humane treatment of all animals, including strays and sea life. She’s consistent and present. Her pictures and updates show an authentic woman climbing, hiking, and embracing life. Even now in her grieving–Dianette does so with grace, transparency, and presence of mind.

Knowing these things about Dianette, I wasn’t surprised by the things I learned about her son when I read his eulogy. The tribute was written and read aloud by his father, Brian Strange at Johnny’s Memorial service earlier this week. I am honored to share it with you, as it is easily one of the most beautiful statements of life that I have read in a very long time.

johnny1 “I stood on top of the world with my son. I sat with him and the King of Bhutan—a small nation in the Himalayas—as we planned adventures to motivate the youth of that country. I even had the “pleasure”……. of representing him as an attorney on the well publicized car surfing charges. But THIS is the day. . . THIS is the day I prayed would never come.

On behalf of his mother Dianette and his sisters Brianna and MacKenna, and his step mother Shamra, his brother Ashton and his little sister Ava, I want to express what we feel to those who celebrate my son Johnny’s life with us here today. I have been worried about Johnny since the day he was born. Once when Johnny was four, he leaped off the back of the couch yelling that he could fly. He smashed his forehead on the floor. After we rushed to the hospital, while waiting for the doctor, Johnny proceded to head-but the gurney requiring yet another set of stitches.

When Johnny was 12, I had my climbing bags laid out all over the living room on my way to Antarctica. Johnny asked me if he could come. Even knowing that he would never be able to summit and that might mean I would not either; I could not give up the opportunity to take my 12 year old boy to Antarctica. Johnny went straight up the mountain in temperatures at time negative 40 F and summited Mount Vinson at age 12. He was the youngest to ever summit and, since you now have to be 16 to even try, the youngest for all time. Johnny and I went on to climb 6 of the Seven Summits together including Aconcagua in Argentina twice because we went down the mountain and came right back up after fixing some frost bite. We spent two months on Mount Everest before summiting together on May 22, 2009, making Johnny the youngest to climb the Seven Summits at the time.

johnny2What I learned and observed about my teenage Johnny through the two months we spent together in a tent in Nepal—and numerous other adventures across the world we shared while he was growing up—and what most of you already know, is that Johnny was a ball of boundless energy—boundless energy coupled with inspiration, determination, and love for his family. Johnny was always on our side. And he was also on the side of those less fortunate in all the countries we visited together. The poverty and the unjust treatment of good people upset him deeply. Johnny was enraged by the imperfection of human justice, by governments and people who just stood by, unwilling to stand up against the slaughter of innocent people. I will never forget the conversation I had a few years ago with Johnny and his step-mother Shamra about why we would not fund a trip to arm Johnny so he could parachute in and single-handedly kill Joseph Kony.

Johnny refused to accept what SO many of us already had accepted. Things like: we can’t stop genocide, we can’t find a cure for Parkinson’s, we can’t skateboard at 100 mph down Kanan Road and even . . . human beings can’t fly like birds. For all the things that most people accept as limits, Johnny by his force of nature had to try, to PUSH, to REACH for.

This brought many clashes at home and personally it terrified me. Johnny rejected the idea of what most would consider a normal life, a safe life. That is not who he was or what he wanted, and he refused to live that way. I wished and tried in numerous ways to make him compromise, to get him to live a normal life. But Johnny knew and accepted the risks. Even if I did not.

Johnny also accepted the disapproval of those who want a safe and secure existence, those not willing or not able to push the boundaries. That was just not for Johnny. As his father, I just could never accept that.

FullSizeRender(20)When I went to pick up my son’s body in Switzerland, I met the young man Alex who was with him on his last adventure. Shamra and I spent some time with Alex and climbed up the mountain where Johnny jumped. As I looked over what is truly one of the more beautiful views in the world, I listened to Alex speak about wingsuit flying in a way I could never listen to Johnny because I refused to hear it. Alex explained that to fly in a wingsuit made him feel almost superhuman. He could soar over trees and so close to the ground that he could high five you. And as I looked down the mountain, I could envision Johnny on that flight. And Alex explained that once you have had that feeling, you can never go back to a normal life. And even after watching Johnny’s tragic accident, making Johnny his 6th friend to die while flying, Alex told us with tears in his eyes that he would never stop. At that moment, I finally began to understand Johnny’s passion.

Flying was not just about danger or thrill seeking, it was about freedom. Freedom of Spirit. Flying was the time Johnny felt most alive, most present and most connected to the universe.

You see, Johnny was not raised going to church. The mountains were his church and the presence and the connection of flight were his prayer. If Johnny had a religion, it would be to not accept limits—to refuse to accept injustice as a way of life or disease as inevitable.

FullSizeRender(17)It has been said that, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

I know not why my son was taken from me and my family at the age of 23. He had so much more to do, so many more fights to take on, so many more mountains to climb and fly off of.

But in those 23 years, his Spirit and his Courage and his Smile touched so many people—people from Antarctica to Russia, from to Nepal to Patagonia, from to the North Pole to the South. Johnny loved life and he loved all of you here today.

While I am not and would not encourage young people to go wingsuit flying off mountain tops—I do ask that you choose courage over fear, and to live a life of adventure, purpose and passion and chose a life of love over the love of ease.

There are so many things on this planet worth fighting for. We should, like Johnny, believe in the limitless of who we are and in the possibility of what we can accomplish. I hope that will be the legacy of Johnny Strange.”


spiritual growth · Uncategorized

I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Pumpkin Garden

So Fall is here, technically it arrived about a week ago, but for those of us who don’t have an alarm on our phones alerting us to its arrival on September 22, the season doesn’t arrive until the calendar flips to the month with the orange lettering. There are some things you should just wait for. Like Fall. And Christmas. And God’s promises to be fulfilled when it seems like maybe He has forgotten you, and you are sitting in the waiting room, and you begin to wonder if God left the building with a friend for a round of golf and a craft beer.

Psalm 27:13-14 has become a poignant verse for my husband and me over this year and last. It talks about waiting:

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Photo_6The verse was quoted to my husband and I when we met with the senior pastor of a large church in California following the announcement of my affair and the firing of my husband from his ministerial position. We went to the home of this pastor seeking advice and encouragement at one of the scariest times in our marriage. (Not, THE scariest time in our marriage…just one of them. Trust me, affairs may be bad news but, now that we are a little further away from it, my husband and I would both contest that burying our 19-month-old little girl was far more frightening).

When Pastor Chuck first said the verse I had images congruent with the TV show, The Walking Dead. My mind didn’t capture “the land of the living” without also imagining “the land of the no longer living”. My eyes rose from my sweaty glass of ice water, and looked across the sunny patio with a quizzical grimace. Pastor Chuck responded to the unspoken inquiry explaining that to see God’s goodness in the land of the living meant that we wouldn’t have to wait until we arrived in Heaven to see how God would use our terrible situation for good. We didn’t have to wait until the afterlife to have an understanding that everything was going to be okay. If we could be strong, wait for the Lord, and trust in His promises, we would see the hand of God and witness the unfolding of His plans while we were still alive on planet Earth.

This morning I happened across another verse that spoke of God’s promises:

“And because of His glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises.” 2 Peter 1:4

Photo_4He has given us precious promises. Wow. That lovely truth started my mind spinning to the variety of places claiming God’s promises. I remember hearing a hymn instructing me to stand on the promises of God. I’ve read where Corrie Ten Boom said “Let God’s promises shine on your problems”. And I once saw a really pretty meme with a sunset and a barn that said “God’s promises are like the stars; the darker the night the brighter they shine.” It has to be true if it has a sunset and barn, right?

But aside from accepting that God’s promises are true, my real question was, “What are His promises?” Because if I am waiting for something, I want to know what it looks like.

Photo_2As I began to pray, one thing became clear. I could see with clarity all the promises that are not from God. He never promised a lot of things that I hope for. God never promised that my vitamins would absorb, that the dog’s vet bill would be less than I made in tips last night, or that my hair color would last. He never promised that I wouldn’t need two new tires when it’s most inconvenient, or that Bank of America would wave their policies for loan approval. God didn’t promise that that your child’s self esteem would be high, or your interest rates low. He didn’t promise that your Mother-in-Law would be kind, that your neighbors would be friendly, or that you would conceive a child. He didn’t promise that our jobs would be fulfilling, that we would be cancer free, or that babies wouldn’t die. God never promised that there wouldn’t continue to be wrongful executions. He didn’t promise that slavery would end. He didn’t promise that we would no longer see injustice in our homes, our work places, our country and our world. He didn’t promise a lot of things I hope for.

PhotoSo what did he promise?

God promised that on our very worst day, He would be at His very best to conquer the demons who work to depress and diminish our spirits. God promised power to the weak and rest for the weary. He promised we would soar like eagles, not because our situation would change, but because our souls could be free.

And why should I care?

Because ultimately our desires sit on two different lists. The first set is the list of things that will show me and others that I’ve lived a righteous life. It can look material for some, but it’s not just about accumulating cars and houses. This is the list where you have a purpose in your job. It’s the list where you make a difference because you are using your gift; where the free will of others is significantly impacted by your influence. It’s the list where justice wins, sickness vanishes, and evil is revealed. It’s a good list, desirable indeed. The second list is what God does when those things don’t happen. It’s repetitive, but here goes: it’s finding peace and allowing things to be well with your soul when none of the things on the first list are happening.

Photo_1We are dependent on the second list because that is God’s promise. While the first list is glorious and certainly full of things I wouldn’t turn away, do you realize what happens when we have the first list without the second? If we were to receive all the things that we think we want, and not be clinging to God’s promise to sustain us when problems come knocking, do you know what we’d be? We would be a bunch of middle class Americans whining about all the other promises that were not fulfilled. In other words, to have the first set of promises fulfilled takes us exactly where we are today.

But why can’t I have both?

Because you’d stop caring about the second list. God knows us. And He knows what we can handle and what we cannot. And in as much as we believe that we were made to do great things, God knows that there are greater things than the achievements of man. The peace you find in Him pleases Him. Oh, you’ll still do great things, it just might be measured differently than you imagined. That’s a promise.